Missing backpacker could be 'trapped' in off-grid cult, father says

Missing backpacker could be 'trapped' in off-grid cult, father says
Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez disappeared in Australia on 31 May. Credit: © Belga

Nearly two months after Belgian backpacker Théo Hayez vanished without a trace in Australia, his father has declared the family have not given up hope as he prepares to fly back to the country, and has suggested his son may still be alive but "imprisoned" in an off-grid cult.

Laurent Hayez last week said he would fly back to Byron Bay, where his son was last seen on May 31, to join local volunteers in their relentless efforts to find the missing teen.

A month-long but fruitless search led by authorities provided little evidence, with police admitting to being "baffled" by the mysterious disappearance — which has prompted the emergence of numerous theories about the disappearance, including that a potential serial killer may be active in the area.

In an interview with RTBF in June, Hayez's father suggested that his son may have been "drugged and kidnapped" or "enlisted" in an isolated cult or commune.

"He may be a prisoner somewhere where there is no electricity — it is our hope," he told the French-language outlet.

"Let him be a prisoner and let him be delivered," he added.

Local police have said that a number of "multiple occupancy and alternative lifestyle communities" existed in the area and that they continued to be part of the ongoing investigation, according to Australian media.

The recent discovery by a member of the public of a baseball cap similar to the one the backpacker was seen wearing on the night of his disappearance was handed over to police, who are examining it for evidence.

Investigators told the Australian outlet that the results of the forensic analysis of the cap should be available "within a week or two."

While police have called off physical searches, the investigation into the 18-year-old's disappearance continues, with assistance from Belgian police, and authorities in both countries encourage anyone with information to come forward.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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